CD cover

Have Love, Will Travel
Black Top (BT-1130)

I just love that freewheeling stuff where the line is blurred between blues and rockabilly and rock. To me, it's all honky tonk, straight-up music." Bill Kirchen

"A devastating culmination of the elegant and funky, a really sensational musician with enormous depth" Nick Lowe

"I think he's great." Johnny Cash


HAVE LOVE, WILL TRAVEL recalls a simpler time in America that many yearn to find again. Everyone talks about the good old days, which is now described as "Americana." A true genre- bending pioneer, Bill Kirchen (along with the likes of Commander Cody and Willie Nelson) championed the 1970's revolution that saw the outlaw country movement and rock 'n' roll careening down the same highway. Americana dares to step outside the sterile boundaries set by Nashville's country scene, appealing to fans combing the roots of western swing, hard country, rockabilly and even psychedelia.

Bill Kirchen has remained a constant and vital force in this evolution. He makes no apologies for playing music for the pure enjoyment of it; and with his charming "aw, shucks" demeanor and rich, tasteful guitar, delivers the goods in an infectious, good-time manner. This is clearly evident on HAVE LOVE, WILL TRAVEL, his second release for Black Top. What can you expect from a guy who named his band Too Much Fun?

The tunes on HAVE LOVE, WILL TRAVEL range from country weepers to rockabilly and honky tonk. Kirchen's guitar prowess abounds on this release, where he reels off streams of elegantly twangy notes on his vintage 1950's Telecaster. (Back in 1969, Kirchen traded a Gibson SG guitar for this "Tele," which he steadfastly continues to play after all these years.)

His voice wraps warmly around heartbreaking ballads, then explodes with a vigorous force on snappy boogie and swing tunes. The musicians on the album include the players who comprise Too Much Fun, Johnny Castle on bass and Jack O'Dell on drums. Kirchen describes his power trio's playing as "fight and loose." Special guests joining in the studio fun were Peter Bonta on keyboards, acoustic guitar and background vocals; Buddy Charleton, who played in Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours, on steel guitar; and the horn section from the Grandsons.

Kirchen has worked to develop his songwriting skills over the years. It didn't come easy for him, as he puts it, "it was the hitch in my get-along. You don't always want people to know what you are thinkin'." Kirchen appears to have overcome this hurdle by joining with his wife, Louise, to write songs. The couple has been together for over 25 years, but this is the first time they have joined forces as a songwrifing team. Louise is a published songwriter who enjoyed a career in various groups in the late 1970's on the West Coast One of her songs was covered in Sam Shopherd's "Fool For Love."

Bill Kirchen grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his first instrument was a trombone. In high school, he met folk singer David Siglin, who still runs one of the oldest and best-known coffeehouses, The Ark. Kirchen immersed himself in the folk scene, learning banjo and guitar, and sought out bluesmen Son House and Mississippi John Hurt, as well as bluegrass and string bands. He started his own band while in college, sort of a "psycho folk-rock outfit," as he recalls. During this period, he met George Frayne, who became known as Commander Cody. His band, The Lost Planet Airmen, took its name from two low-budget Saturday matinee serials, "Commando Cody" and "The Lost Planet Airmen." The band's sound was boogie-woogie, rockabilly and country.

In 1969, Kirchen convinced the band to move to San Francisco. As Kirchen tells it, "it was the thing to do back in 1969, especially if you were living in Ann Arbor." Within two years, the band had established a large fan base and a major label contract. The ever-quotable Dr. Demento noted in his liner notes for the Very Best of (a collection of Airmen classics), " ...the Airmen's subtly twisted brew of roots music went over nicely with the mind-expanded locals. They opened for the Airplane, the Dead and the Doors." Their debut, Lost In the Ozone, was an eclectic blend of sounds ranging from gospel to the Andrew Sisters and Eddie Cochran. The release spawned the near million-selling hit "Hot Rod Lincoln," which went on to become a generation's anthem, and catapulted the band into the international spotlight.

Kirchen was the vocal and guitar force behind several of the band's songs that became country rock standards: "Mama Hated Diesels," (from Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Trucker's Favorites-one of the first concept albums) and "Down to Seeds and Stems Again." Critics adored the band for their unorthodox mix of academia and blue collar backgrounds. Dr. Demento summed it up with, "(The Airmen were loved) for breaking down musical barriers, especially country music and the contemporary 1960-70's rock scene."

One of the most heralded performances by any group is The Airmen's Live From Deep In The Heart of Texas recorded in 1973 at the famed Armadillo World Headquarters. Geoffrey Stokes' 1975 book, Star Making Machinery, delves into the indelible creative stamp left by The Airmen, with their ability to cross over the lines drawn for rock and country. In the '70's, the band was considered one of the top opening acts for artists such as the Allman Brothers, Jeff Beck, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. After their all too brief moment of stardom, The Lost Planet Airmen broke up in 1976 and Kirchen went on to form the Moonlighters, a seven piece swing outfit. Kirchen caught the attention of Brinsley-Schwartz member and British pub-rock star Nick Lowe during the Airmen days.

Lowe ended up producing the first Moonlighters album, and Kirchen not only toured with him, but played on two of his solo albums. Kirchen has recorded with Link Wray and Gene Vincent and while in England working with Lowe in the '80's, played with Elvis Costello.

Kirchen moved to Washington, D.C. in 1986, where he is now considered a mainstay on the D.C. area music scene, winning countless WAMMIES, the area's awards honoring its musicians. In 1995, he won a total of eight awards which included "Musician Of The Year" and "Instrumentalist of the Year," among others. He recorded "Tombstone Every Mile," a rollicking diesel-fueled disc that was originally released on Costello-owned Demon Records in England. It hit the U.S. when Kirchen signed with Black Top in 1994.

Continuing on the same cross country, backwoods highway as Tombstone Every Mile (BT-1109), HAVE LOVE, WILL TRAVEL takes the listener on a journey filled with enough twists and turns to set hearts a-poundin'. The Twang core movement has gained momentum over the years with the likes of Big Sandy &The Flyrite Boys, Dave Alvin, Big Blue, Wilco, Sun Volt and The Jayhawks playing to a small, but faithful fan base. In 1995, national awareness increased dramatically, culminating in the creation of new radio charts and a flurry of national label signings. Bill Kirchen, one of the original innovators of the movement, wonders what took them so long. As Michael Point of the Austin American Statesman so aptly declared- "Kirchen rules."

Play a RealAudio soundbite of Have Love, Will Travel.

To Top

CrosstownArts Toolbar